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Cards nab podium finish in NCAA 99 finals series

Article by: Alexandra Isabelle G. Delavin
Graphics by: Ma. Alyssa Therese S. Manalang
Photo by: Mary Lesley A. Berina

Last December 17, the Mapúa Cardinals concluded the last chapter of their National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 99 story with a 1st runner-up finish following the best-of-three series finale against the San Beda University Red Lions at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Coming off semis sweep and a seven-game winning streak, the red and gold squad had to face the Red Lions in a best-of-three series that started last December 6. Right from the start of the game, both squads already put up a basket for their respective teams, but Rookie JC Recto found the right place beyond the arc to drain in the three. Pressing on their defense, the Cards refused to back down, ending the first period with a 17-all ending. However, a deadlock was not enough for the Cardinals as they spared no effort to rattle the defense of the Mendiola-based troop. Mounting a double-digit advantage, the Intramuros-based squad's confidence was evident as the players poured in consecutive baskets while pushing the Lions to a shooting lump to end the third quarter with a 59-48 score.

Less than two minutes into the fourth period, Clutch Veteran Paolo Hernandez launched a quick two to keep the Lions from scratching the huge gap. Despite the Mendiola-based jerseys' attempt to reignite a furious run in the last minutes of the game, two more successful throws at the charity arc by the Cardinals brought the Lions down to their heel, 68-63.

More than just a rookie, Peter Rosillo shone as the Champion of the Game following a stellar performance built on 15 points, seven boards, two assists, and two steals. Meanwhile, Hernandez's double-double performance put him in the spotlight once again after churning 16 points and 12 boards.

Inching a step closer to redefining history last December 10, the Cardinals had the same vigor and tenacity entering the Finals Game 2. However, challenges took form in the Red Lions that forced the Cardinals to regroup and readjust their gameplay as the first half ended with a 12-point setback, 30-42.

Up for the challenge to wipe the double-digit advantage, the Mapúa ballers figured the right pacing in the second half. With a 41-44 score at the 5:15 mark, Hernandez knocked down a three-point shot, followed by two charity throws from Escamis, to finally take the lead in the game. The Cardinals also limited the Red Lions' scoring to only six points as opposed to their 23-point performance in the third quarter.

At the start of the last period, the Cardinals continued to go full steam ahead to send the Lions back to the den. However, as time slowly ran out on the clock, the Cards ultimately came up short by six points, 71-65, heading into a winner-takes-all Game 3.

With only one game keeping the Cardinals from the championship title last December 17, the do-or-die match witnessed both squads trading heated buckets. With the title on the line, the red and gold squad had to fight tooth and nail. Yet, even in the face of adversity, Rookie Rosillo broke through the opponents' defense to put up a tough two to trim the margin down to one, 35-36, at the end of the second quarter.

As the lead kept changing places throughout the third period, Captain Ball Warren Bonifacio's defensive tactics prevented the Lions from taking the lead. Fighting against the shot clock, Cyrus Cuenco quickly passed the ball to Kobe Dalisay who executed a three-point shot with only four seconds left on the clock. However, the deciding quarter came with a lot of hurdles that ultimately closed the game with a 66-76 final score. Despite this, Newcomers Rosillo and JC Recto showed up for their team, showing veteran-like skills to catalog 28 points together for the team. 

Being overlooked and counted out as a Final Four contender at the start of the season, the Mapúa Cardinals capitalized on their foundation centered on trust, confidence, and teamwork to eventually emerge as heroes, not just in the basketball scene, but also for the Mapúan Community.

With just a year in the NCAA scene, league-leading scorer Escamis already pulled away from the players, having no competition for the coveted Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year plum. In every game, he stood up as one of the commanding presences inside the court to also join the Mythical Five and All Defensive Team. Meanwhile, Captain Ball Warren Bonifacio ends his collegiate basketball career on a high, also scoring a spot in the Mythical Five.

From creating school history to beating each NCAA team at least once throughout the season, the Mapúa Cardinals will make it their mission to soar higher next season. Despite Cardinals Bonifacio and Jopet Soriano's departure from the team, the next season will still see action from the Cardinals as the remaining players will remain intact and ready to unfold another journey.

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